Dem candidates mostly turn a blind eye to Israeli atrocities and Palestinian rights

Dem candidates mostly turn a blind eye to Israeli atrocities and Palestinian rights

Dem candidates have yet to address the Israel/Palestine issue in a debate. (Photo from the first night of the Democratic presidential debate on June 26, 2019, in Miami.)

On the critical issue of Israel/Palestine, Democratic presidential hopefuls reveal a strong pro-Israel leaning that does not match the sentiments of a huge swath of Democratic voters. 

By Kathryn Shihadah

Democratic candidates for president are talking 24/7, but for the most part, they fail to express the prevailing attitudes about Israel/Palestine.

According to a Pew Research poll conducted in January 2018, just 27% of Democrats sympathize more with Israel; 25% sympathize more with the Palestinians (the rest answered neither, both, or don’t know). Just two years ago, the numbers were 43% for Israel and 29% for the Palestinians.

A Gallup poll from about the same time further found that “nearly as many liberal Democrats now sympathize more with the Palestinians (38%) as with the Israelis (41%).”

That’s correct: of Democrats who are disposed to one side, it’s nearly an even split between supporters of Israel and supporters of justice for Palestinians.

And a Pew poll found that 35 percent of liberal Democrats sympathize more with Palestinians, compared with only 19 percent who sympathize more with Israel.

In fact, the erosion of support for Israel has become so marked that a new, abundantly funded pro-Israel organization has been created by Democratic bigwigs to specifically target progressives.

One might expect, based on the numbers, that Democratic candidates for president (and Congress – but that’s a topic for another day) would reflect these preferences: they ought to be taking a centrist position or a pro-justice position; alternatively, we’d expect to see a split close to 50/50 between pro-Israel candidates and candidates who want justice for Palestinians.

Turns out, that’s not what is happening. Instead, the candidates often seem to be expressing the will of the pro-Israel lobby, pro-Israel political action committees, and pro-Israel billionaire campaign donors such as Haim Saban and others.

Voters who are interested in justice for all need to change the conversation. The candidates need to know that there is another side to this issue.

Below is a sampling of quotes on Israel/Palestine from the candidates who will be participating in the October 15 debate, followed by commentary on how their statements line up with the facts and the concepts of justice and human rights.

Some of the candidates, such as Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar, are unabashedly supportive of Israel in spite of its atrocities, and oblivious to its oppression of Palestinians. (Klobuchar is considered “the candidate most closely aligned with AIPAC,” and was nicknamed by Benjamin Netanyahu, “the Israeli Prime Minister of Minnesota.”)

Others at least occasionally acknowledge Palestinian suffering, but from an Israel-centric point of view that necessarily distorts the facts.

A few  candidates – notably Bernie Sanders (who has family in Israel) and Tulsi Gabbard – have sometimes called out Israel over its violations of international law; but still within an Israel-centric context. (Even Sanders has room for improvement. Read more on Sanders here.)

Voters who want a US president who will support human rights and justice for Palestinians, and oppose Israeli brutality, oppression, and violation of international law, need to demand better from our candidates. We want them to take a strong stand.

They need to hear from us, not just from the Israel lobby!

FALLACY #1: “Israel is a democracy, an ally, a friend with shared values”

No doubt the most often-repeated mantra about the Israel/Palestine issue during this election cycle (and for years in Washington) has been “Israel is our greatest ally,” followed closely by “Israel is a democracy.” 

Even candidates who have made statements supportive of Palestinian human rights, regularly proclaim that Israel is a “friend” or an “ally.”

  • AMY KLOBUCHAR said, “Israel is our beacon of democracy in the Mideast” and “[Israel] has been a beacon of democracy that has made the entire world a safer, more hopeful place.”
  • KAMALA HARRIS said, “Israel, is a beautiful home to democracy and justice,” andI think Israel as a country is dedicated to being a democracy and is one of our closest friends in that region.”
  • ANDREW YANG declared, “Israel is a very, very important ally.”
  • BETO O’ROURKE called Israel an “exemplary democracy that shares our values” and considers the US-Israel relationship “one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet.”
  • ELIZABETH WARREN considers Israel a “good friend.”
  • BETO O’ROURKE said, “[The US-Israel relationship] must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist…”
  • JULIAN CASTRO said, “Support Israel, remain strong allies, but recognize the value of Palestinians…”
  • TULSI GABBARD stated, “I know how important our enduring alliance with Israel is.” But she also tweeted “Israel needs to stop using live ammunition in its response to unarmed protesters in Gaza. It has resulted in over 50 dead and thousands seriously wounded.”
  • JOE BIDEN said, “This government will stand with Israel. It’s in our own self-interest, beyond it being an absolute moral necessity,” and “The relationship has…been about the kinship, the values That Americans and Israelis share.”
  • AMY KLOBUCHAR vowed, “the people of Israel must know that wherever forces of intolerance gather to endanger their safety or security, the United States will stand beside them in defying and defeating those foes…”
  • SANDERS said, “Friends, the United States and the State of Israel have a strong bond, going back to the moment of Israel’s founding. There is no question that we should be, and will be Israel’s strong friend and ally in the years to come. At the same time, we must recognize that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its daily restrictions on the political and civil liberties of the Palestinian people runs contrary to fundamental American values.”
  • BETO O’ROURKE‘s campaign said, “Beto traveled to Israel during his time in Congress, including communities on the border with Gaza where he met with Israeli families who have lived through the terror of attacks from Hamas militants. He also has met with Members of Knesset to reinforce the friendship between our two countries. These experiences have helped him to better understand the necessity of our close relationship.”

The facts:

Israel is not an ally or a friend Israel is a liability, an embarrassment, and possibly even a danger to the US.  It has been a haven for financial scammers of various types who have in some cases fleeced American seniors and veterans out of their life savings. It tried to sink a U.S. Navy ship and then called the survivors, who are still trying to get justice, “antisemitic.”

Israel is not a democracy – Israel is based on dispossession, discrimination, and violence toward Palestinians (and Jews of color). Israel was born in racism and ethnic cleansing, and thrives on dispossession, violence, and ongoing racism

The US relationship with Israel is important in its stunning drain on American capital ($10 million a day) that impairs our ability as a country to afford necessities (for example, health care); the relationship is important to Israel in that US aid has enabled Israel to grow its economy at our expense (Israelis are wealthier on average than Europeans). Its alliance with a UN member that has veto power, also enables Israel to proceed unimpeded in its violations of international law.

Israel is a force of intolerance, as religious extremism has become widespread. Analysts have been using the word “apartheid” to describe the system since 1961) – South African leaders concur.

Candidate O’Rourke’s trip highlights the indoctrination that brings many candidates of both parties to their positions. Whether through visits to Israel (notice that O’Rourke visited “Israel,” “Israeli families,” and “Knesset members,” but no Palestinians or Palestinian territories), or mainstream media reporting, the vast majority of Congress members have no input from sources that are not pro-Israel.

Joe Biden’s excessive pandering

In a league all his own, Candidate Biden has personally allied himself with the Israeli settler colonial enterprise and its racist (former) leader, Benjamin Netanyahu:

  • JOE BIDEN said in 2014, “Send a message to Bibi. I love him,” and in 2007, “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.”
  • BIDEN also said, “The conditions under which the Israeli people live, the sense of vulnerability, the constant fear of attack is real. It is not imagined. It’s real. And the people of Israel have lived under siege since the beginning. They’ve built a nation in defiance of relentless threats from their neighbors…Israel is a nation of uncommon courage.”

The facts

Biden’s heart-warming message to then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was uttered just months after an Israeli invasion of Gaza that killed 2,250 Palestinians – 500 of them children (Palestinian resistance forces killed a total of 73 Israelis).

Zionism, the ideology of re-establishing the “re”-establishing a Jewish state historic Palestine, requires the dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian people of the land.

Vulnerability: The UN says, “The humanitarian context of the oPt is unique amongst today’s crises and remains directly tied to the impact of the occupation…At least 1.9 million Palestinians experience, or are at risk of, conflict and violence, displacement and denial of access to livelihoods, among other threats. The most vulnerable Palestinians are currently denied or restricted in their access to essential services such as water and health care. A recurrent cycle of shocks, natural and manmade, has eroded the resilience of vulnerable households to cope with the prolonged nature of the humanitarian crisis…”

Fear of attack: Palestinians in the West Bank live with the constant threat of middle-of-the-night raids and arrests (including children), violence from Jewish settlers (with complicity or assistance from the Israeli military), home demolition, and expulsion; Palestinian Bedouin living in Israel face the demolition of entire villages; Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are relentlessly pursued and evicted (cleansed) from their homes; and Gazans are in constant fear of massive attack by Israeli warplanes and snipers, and at constant risk from unsafe water and food and medical supply shortages.

Under siege: Gaza is literally under siege – a 12-year blockade by land, sea, and air. 

Don’t forget to SPEAK UP!
Tell the candidates what kind of president you are looking for.

Israeli soldier fires a weapon. Candidates support Israel's right to defend itself.FALLACY #2: “Israel is doing as well as can be expected on human rights”

 In June, the New York Times asked all of the presidential candidates the question, “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?” (JOE BIDEN “declined to participate” in the NYT project.) Many of the candidates described Israel in mild terms:

  • GABBARD said, “[T]here are some challenges with Israel that need to be addressed…The conflict [is] complicated.”
  • WARREN said, “I think that Israel is in a really tough neighborhood…They face enormous challenges.” (Read more on Warren here.)
  • BUTTIGIEG said, “Israel’s human rights record is problematic and moving in the wrong direction under the current rightwing government…”
  • YANG said, “Certainly, some of the actions that are being taken there are deeply problematic and run afoul of some of the standards we’d like to see countries meet. I’d be hesitant to say they are in violation of those standards.”
  • CASTRO said, “I believe that Israel, like a lot of countries, wants to do the right thing, that they can get better.”

The facts

Israel has been defying the United Nations for decades, uses disproportionate force on a daily basis, and has a shameful human rights record that numerous organizations have documented – including  Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, B’Tselem, Red Cross, Physicians for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, Foreign Service Journal, U.S. State Department, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Human Sciences Research Center of South Africa, National Lawyers Guild.

Israel was created through ethnic cleansing of people who are now living in refugee camps. On top of that Israel is perpetrating a 52-year occupation of an essentially unarmed Palestinian population – a population that is resisting their oppression (resistance is a recognized right under international law) through protest and times of shooting small projectiles into Israel. These projectiles rarely cause injury or death: in 19 years, 51 Israelis have been killed by rockets (about 30 during times of active conflict), vs. over 7,400 Gazan Palestinians who were killed by Israel during the same time period. While Israeli civilians may find the rockets unnerving, it is actually the Palestinians who need security, a way to defend themselves, and an affirmation of their right to exist. 

The Israel/Palestine issue is not a conflict between two equals, but between a hyper-militarized state and an occupied, barely-armed, starving population.

While compassion toward all people is commendable, it is important to recognize the profound power differential between a militarized state with nuclear weapons and a largely unarmed population living in virtual prisons. Yet, candidates ignore this reality.

  • GABBARD said, “[U]ltimately [we must] make sure that both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are able to live in peace and security.”
  • CASTRO said, “I do believe that we need to recognize and respect the human rights of Palestinians…”
  • BOOKER said, “We have a problem right now in America with the way we are debating Israel and Israel’s security. We have a president right now that doesn’t seem to support this idea of a two-state solution…My commitment right now is for affirming Israel’s right to exist, Israel’s right to defend itself against enemies which they have virtually surrounding them, but also to affirm the dignity and self-determination of the Palestinian people.” Elsewhere, BOOKER said, “Human rights must be a central tenet of our foreign policy and that means upholding the human rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. I believe the surest way to achieve this outcome is a two-state solution in which both Israelis and Palestinians can find justice and self-determination.”

Several of the candidates chose an even less confrontational answer to the NYT question, “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?”

  • KLOBUCHAR said, “Yes [Israel meets human rights standards].”
  • HARRIS said, “Overall, yes.”

The facts

Candidate Booker supports Israel’s rights to exist and defend itself, but not those same rights for Palestinians – the ones who are are up against a powerful state that is occupying millions of Palestinians and has made millions more refugees.

Booker completely dodged the question, but managed to bring up classic pro-Israel talking points – right to exist, right to self-defense, and two-state solution (more about the two-state solution below). The implication is that, as long as Israel says it is under “existential threat” from “terrorists,” it has no obligation to treat Palestinians as human beings.

Klobuchar and Harris are apparently comfortable with Israel’s policy of sending snipers to kill unarmed civilians, including children, and with Israel’s demolitions of Palestinian homes to make room for Jewish-only settlements (a war crime), and with Israel’s detention and torture of Palestinian children. They must be comfortable with the dozens of discriminatory Israeli laws, especially the Nation-State Law that designates Palestinians as second-class citizens.

It is hard to imagine any progressive presidential candidate refusing to acknowledge the apartheid of South Africa in 1976, or describing that country as having “challenges,” “trying its best,” or needing affirmation of its “right to exist.” Yet these intelligent political leaders, these would-be Presidents of the United States, are doing essentially that – ignoring reports in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2007, 2002, and even as early as 1961 labelling Israel as an apartheid state.

FALLACY #3: “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is anti-Israel”

The BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) Movement – modeled on the initiative that ultimately brought down apartheid in South Africa – has been a topic of conversation since legislation has come before both houses of Congress attempting to curtail this form of political speech. Several candidates had comments about the legislation and BDS itself as it relates to Israel:

  • WARREN said, “I think the boycott is wrong, but I think outlawing protected free speech activity violates our basic constitution.”
  • BIDEN said, “We will continue to push back against the calls…for people to boycott, disinvest, or sanction Israel. I know it’s not popular to say, but it’s wrong.”
  • O’ROURKE said, “Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement [is a manifestation of anti-Israel bias].”
  • BOOKER said, “I do not support BDS. Never have, never will. There are some in the BDS movement that don’t believe Israel should even exist. It’s an anti-Israel movement. I believe a lot of things that BDS is calling for actually hurt our ability to get a two-state solution.”
  • KLOBUCHAR said, “As staunch allies of Israel, we must also ensure that harmful movements, like the resurgence in anti-Semitism and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement are not successful.”

The facts

BDS is a nonviolent way to pressure Israel to end its policies of land theft and illegal colonization. In the 1990s, South Africa was singled out – because it needed to be. (Also, Americans want the right to boycott – it is a First Amendment right.)

It is notable that none of the candidates address the purpose of the boycott movement: “freedom, justice and equality…simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.”

Palestinian looks at an Israeli settlement on stolen Palestinian land. Candidates will not acknowledge the settlements' illegality.

FALLACY #4: “Settlements may cause Israel to stop being a democracy; a two-state solution will fix everything”

Regarding illegal Israeli settlements, built on land stolen from Palestinian families, many of the candidates have gone on record as critical of the practice – none more adamantly than Bernie Sanders:

  • SANDERS said, “Israel is not, cannot, just simply expand when it wants to expand with new settlements” and “I think if the expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate…I happen to think that those expansions were illegal.” (Read more on Sanders here.)

The other candidates sound concerned about settlements – because it’s “not in Israel’s best interests” – but Democrats have been saying this for years without making a move to end the expansion.

  • CASTRO said, “Israel has to choose: it’s going to be a Jewish state or a democratic state…I recognize that [a 2-state solution] has been made harder over the years through the increase in settlements…”
  • O’ROURKE said, “[T]he settlement problem is putting at risk the very viability of the two-state solution…[and Israel’s] ability to be both a democratic and Jewish state.”
  • BIDEN said, “Israel’s government’s steady and systematic process of expanding settlements, legalizing outposts and seizing land is eroding, in my view, the prospect of a two-state solution…[T]rends on the ground, at least for the time being, are moving in the opposite direction toward a one-state reality, which is a reality that is dangerous. And folks, that’s in direct conflict with the goal we all share of assuring Israel’s future as a secure Jewish and democratic state at peace with its neighbors.”
  • WARREN said, “I believe that Israelis and Palestinians want a chance at self-determination and a chance at building a future for themselves, for their children, and for their grandchildren…the way they will do that is a two-state solution” and “I have opposed settlements for more than three decades because I believe [they are] counterproductive for Israel’s security.” (Read more on Warren here.)
  • CASTRO said, “the Trump admin has enabled reckless actions like [West Bank annexation] from Netanyahu. US support for a two-state solution is on the line in November 2020.”
  • GABBARD said, “my long-held position [is] that the most viable path to peace between Israel and Palestine can be found through both sides negotiating a two-state solution.
  • HARRIS said (when asked if she opposes illegal expansion of Israeli settlements), “the terms of any agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians cannot be imposed by others in the world.”

The facts

Sanders is right. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, settlement-building is illegal. The UN, the International Court of Justice, and the Red Cross agree. Politicians’ most common criticism, however, is not the legality, but the way settlements complicate the peace process: Palestinians want a state of their own, but 650,000 Israeli Jews live inside Palestinian territories. If the so-called two-state solution is the way to peace, settlements stand in the way. 

The argument that “Israel will have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic state” is a straw man. Israel has already chosen: it is a Jewish state for its Jewish citizens, and an implicitly apartheid state for the rest, voiding the possibility of being a democracy.

Most fully informed, committed supporters of Palestine do not support the “two-state solution.” Because Israel has 650,000 settlers entrenched in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the possibility of dividing the land into two states is unlikely, and if it did happen, Israel would demand that a Palestinian state be demilitarized and under almost total Israeli control. Palestinians would end up with a tiny, indefensible, noncontiguous state and be at the mercy of their heavily armed neighbor.

While Palestinians themselves must ultimately decide what they want, people who believe in justice generally favor a single democratic state with equal rights for all. The “danger” of the one-state solution lies in the fact that it would result in a Palestinian majority, nullifying the “Jewish state” project (which was inequitable from the beginning). It is the only fair solution on the table right now (Read books by Mazin Qumsiyeh, Virginia Tilley, and Ali Abunimah for more on the one-state solution.)

These politicians are looking at the issue from an Israel-centric perspective, speculating about what is best for Israel and ignoring the fact that settlements are not just a violation of international law, but also harmful to hundreds of thousands of actual Palestinians. Settlement-building requires the confiscation of huge swaths of Palestinian farmland and grazing land, the loss of their means of subsistence, their freedom of movement, safety, and more. (These injustices are in addition to Israel’s ongoing human rights violations and atrocities – some of which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.)

FALLACY #5: “$3.8 billion a year to Israel is non-negotiable”

Israel currently receives over $10 million a day in military aid; bills before Congress would guarantee a minimum of $38 billion over the next ten years – more than half (57%) of the US’s total military aid budget. Many voters – and a few politicians – have begun to question the wisdom and/or morality of this support. Once again, Candidate Sanders offers the boldest statements.

  • SANDERS said, “But the idea that a member of the United States Congress cannot visit a nation which, by the way, we support to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, is clearly an outrage. And if Israel doesn’t want members of the United States Congress to visit their country to get a firsthand look at what’s going on…maybe he can respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we give to Israel.
  • SANDERS said, “the United States government gives a whole lot of money to Israel and I think we can leverage that money to end some of the racism that we have recently seen in Israel.”
  • SANDERS said, [referring to the billions in annual aid Israel receives from Washington] “I would sit down with Israel and say, look … if you want military aid from the United States, you’re going to have to treat the Palestinian people and that region with respect.”

Other candidates do not prioritize morality or frugality in this budgetary line item:

  • ANDREW YANG said, “In terms of the money we’re giving to an ally like Israel, my first instinct would be, why would we reduce it?…There are certain relationships we have that to me, we need to rebuild and strengthen. I would suggest that our relationship with Israel is one of them.”
  • CORY BOOKER said, “Unequivocally 100 percent absolutely [yes] to the 3.3 billion [a year – this number excludes an additional $500 million in missile defense funding]. I have been on the front lines every time an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] is up to make sure Israel gets the funding it needs. I even pushed for more funding.”

Even Bernie Sanders wrapped his relatively bold statement in Israel-centric language:

  • SANDERS said, “There are going to be demands being made of the Palestinian folks as well…Foreign aid should go to housing and schools, not the development of bombs and missiles.”

The facts

Israel, a state that breaks international laws, is guilty of apartheid, and participates in ethnic cleansing, is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $142.3 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. Right now Israel receives $3.8 billion a year in fungible aid (meaning that it can be used for purposes other than what the US intended). And there are other, indirect costs to America as well.

At a bare minimum, candidates should demand that Israel’s aid should be contingent on its actions – but more than that, America should totally rethink the size of the aid package.

Israeli snipers at Gaza border. FALLACY #6: “I mean it when I say that Israel should exercise restraint and the occupation has to end”

While Israeli violence against indigenous Palestinians has been nearly continuous for decades, the current spate, now in its nineteenth month, has drawn some comments from the presidential candidates. Since March 30, 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have been gathering weekly for largely peaceful demonstrations, to protest a number of deeply unjust policies. Israel has met these demonstrations with snipers, and has killed hundreds of innocent people, including women, children, medics, and journalists.

As with other topics, the candidates’ comments vary in their intensity and objective. Those statements that have a ring of justice to them have so far been empty words, lack follow-up, and have yet to produce any results.

  • SANDERS said, “Instead of applauding Israel for [killing nearly 60 unarmed Palestinians], Israel should be condemned. Israel has a right to security, but shooting unarmed protesters is not what it is about,” and “I don’t think that any objective person can disagree that Israel has massively overreacted to these demonstrations.”
  • GABBARD said, “Israel needs to stop using live ammunition in its response to unarmed protesters in Gaza. It has resulted in over 50 dead and thousands seriously wounded.”
  • WARREN said, “I am deeply concerned about the deaths and injuries in Gaza. As additional protests are planned for the coming days, the Israel Defense Forces should exercise restraint and respect the rights of Palestinians to peacefully protest.” (Read more about Elizabeth Warren on Israel/Palestine here.)

Candidate Cory Booker also weighed in on the Gaza issue about the same time:

  • BOOKER said, “We support Israel’s right to defend itself, full stop. You have a terrorist organization that actually suppresses its own people, conducts acts of violence and human rights violations against people who live in Gaza. And so Israel has a right to defend itself and it should do that.”

While Hamas has spearheaded violent acts at times in the past, it is a duly elected governing body (elections were held at Israel’s insistence) and is actively resisting the illegal de facto occupation of Gaza. In the time period that Israel’s sharpshooters and warplanes killed over three hundred Gazans and wounded tens of thousands, Hamas has killed 7 Israelis. Accusations of terrorism, violence, and human rights violations would be more accurately pointed at Israel. 

While statements like “Israel needs to stop” and “IDF should exercise restraint” are welcomed by Palestinians, the fact is that, in the fifteen months since the statements were made, Israel has neither stopped nor exercised restraint in targeting Gazans. Israel has continued to use live ammunition (including exploding bullets) against these unarmed people. Around 240 additional Palestinians have been killed since the candidates made these statements – killed as they nonviolently protested for their human rights and a 12-year blockade by Israel that is causing malnutrition, water and electricity crises, and a shortage of medical supplies, to name a few (and this is not the first such blockade).

It is indeed setting the bar low when the one candidate who calls out Israel for “shooting unarmed protesters” is considered courageous, just for telling the truth.

As for the West Bank, Israel’s 52-year of illegal occupation has been rebranded under the Trump administration – the preferred descriptors now are “contested” and “disputed.” Although according to international humanitarian law, the land is indeed occupied, the word has somehow become taboo in some circles. IfNotNow, an American Jewish anti-occupation organization, has been trying to break through this barrier and elicit statements about the Israeli occupation from the Democratic presidential candidates:

  • BUTTIGIEG said, “The occupation has to can care about Israel’s future and believe in the US relationship and alliance with Israel, without being on board with right-wing policies by the Netanyahu government.”
  • BIDEN said, “Yes, but also got to pressure the Palestinians to stop the hate, to stop the calling for violence…It takes two to do this…[I will pressure Israel] in terms of what they can and can not do relative to what is accepted internationally…[Palestinians must] accept the notion that Israel has the right to exist, and I will insist on Israel, which I’ve done, to stop the occupation of those territories, period.”
  • BOOKER said [to the question “do you think the occupation is a human rights crisis?”], “You’re not going to get me to address that question the way you want. [questioner: “People are suffering…which is why I need to see leadership to end the occupation, to create a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.”] If that’s your issue, I would understand if you want to support somebody else.”
  • WARREN said [to the statement “we would really love it if you would push the Israeli government to end the occupation”], “Yes. So I’m there.”
  • WARREN also said elsewhere, “We can start by welcoming the Palestinian General Delegation back to Washington and reopening an American mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. I would also make clear that in a two-state agreement both parties should have the option to locate their capitals in Jerusalem, as all previous serious plans have acknowledged. We should immediately resume aid to the Palestinians and financial support to UNRWA, and focus real financial and political resources on fixing the man-made humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip.” (Read more on Warren here.)
  • SANDERS said, “[A]s you all know, there was another side to the story of Israel’s creation, a more painful side. Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees. To acknowledge this painful historical fact does not ‘delegitimize’ Israel, any more than acknowledging the Trail of Tears delegitimizes the United States of America.”

With the exception of Candidate Booker, these presidential hopefuls are claiming that they would do something about the occupation (Buttigieg and Biden did so from a pro-Israel angle, Warren made some constructive suggestions – but not about justice). Words are cheap: President Obama made some people supportive of justice for all hopeful, but his administration saw thousands of Palestinians killed in Gaza and the exponential growth of settlements.

Senator Sanders leads the pack in basic honesty about the cost in Palestinian suffering in the birth of Israel – but even his statement was couched in pro-Israel rhetoric. What is perhaps most alarming about this is the lowness of the bar: one candidate stands out from the rest simply because he does not deny the truth.

Tired Palestinian old man surrounded by Israeli soldiers. Candidates ignore Israeli constant encroachment on Palestinian livesFALLACIES #7 and 8: “Israel just needs to keep its eyes on the prize (two-state solution)” and “Israel should be revered for its extraordinary prosperity and its healthy approach to security”

The candidates have released miscellaneous statements and tweets, made comments and answered questions about Israel/Palestine that are worth looking at:

  • WARREN said (in a letter she and nine other senators sent to PM Netanyahu), “We write today to urge your government not to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya and the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar. The displacement of entire communities would be an irreversible step away from a 2-state solution, and we urge your government to abandon its efforts to destroy these villages.”

While Israel has delayed the village demolitions for the time being, the Israeli government has an ongoing policy of demolishing homes, neighborhoods, and sometimes entire villages. Since 1967, Israel has demolished nearly 50,000 Palestinian homes, multifamily apartment buildings, and other structures. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been displaced; an unknown number of families have lost their means of sustenance.

Senator Warren’s statement ignores Palestinian suffering and injustice, focusing only on the Israeli priority of retaining the two-state option – although there is little to indicate that Israel has an appetite for anything other than continued occupation.

  • BUTTIGIEG said, “[I saw] the way that a country can be on the one hand very intentional, very serious, and very effective when it comes to security, and on the other hand not allowing concerns about security to dominate your consciousness. I think that’s a very important lesson that hopefully Americans can look to when we think about how to navigate a world that unfortunately has become smaller and more dangerous for all of us.”

(Candidate Buttigieg had just returned from an AJC Mayors’ trip to Israel, a visit that took place during major protests by Gazan Palestinians (see above). This statement came four days after 60 mostly unarmed Palestinians were killed by Israeli sharpshooters.)

The Israeli model is one the US should never emulate: Israel practices de facto apartheid, has a dismal human rights record, and uses disproportionate force on a daily basis. 

  • HARRIS said, “So having grown up in the Bay Area, I fondly remember those Jewish national fund boxes that we would use to collect donations to plant trees for Israel. Years later when I visited Israel for the first time, I saw the fruits of that effort and the Israeli ingenuity that has truly made a desert bloom.”

From its founding, the Jewish National Fund acquired Palestinian land and contributed to Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians. Till today the JNF participates in confiscation and (often violent) removal of Palestinians. JNF also plants forests that conceal the ruins of Palestinian villages as it seeks to erase history and memory. As for Israel “making the desert bloom,” this is a myth circulated at the expense of Palestinians.

  • BOOKER said, “Israel is not political to me. It’s not political. I was a supporter of Israel well before I was a United State Senator. I was coming to AIPAC conferences well before I knew that one day I would be a federal officer. If I forget thee, O Israel, may I cut off my right hand.”

Palestinians and those who advocate for Palestinian human rights also see the Israel/Palestine issue as non-political. They see it as a moral issue: Palestinians are under the domination of an unjust, hostile regime that is practicing apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Many see a position like Booker’s as evidence of dual loyalty – a hot-button term that is nevertheless accurate for some politicians, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

(Booker made this comment during an AIPAC meeting. AIPAC is in the business of limiting free speech in America, supporting intolerance toward Muslim Americans, and spreading propaganda in Congress.) 

  • SANDERS said, “But to be successful, we have also got to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza unemployment today is 44 percent and we have there a poverty rate which is almost as high…today there is a whole lot of suffering among Palestinians and that cannot be ignored. You can’t have good policy that results in peace if you ignore one side.” (Read more on Sanders here.)

Acknowledgement of Palestinian suffering is a good first step – one that almost no candidates have been willing to take. Acknowledgement that Palestinian suffering was caused by Israeli occupation and oppression is the necessary second half of the equation.

  • BIDEN said, “The future belongs to the bridge builders, not the wall builders.”

This comment, made in the context of a call to stop “delegitimizing Israel,” could not be more ironic. Israel has built, not a bridge but a wall around the Palestinians of the West Bank. The wall separates Palestinian farmers from their land and livelihood, patients from hospitals, families from each other, and Muslims from Jerusalem. The publicly stated purpose for the wall was to “stop terrorists,” but its true purpose was annexation. (Israel has also built a wall around the Palestinians of Gaza.)

  • (Candidate TOM STEYER has apparently said little to nothing so far about the Israel/Palestine issue. His statement on Trump’s meddling in Israel’s decision to ban Reps. Tlaib and Omar from visiting Palestine – that it was part of a “bigoted and destructive agenda” – and his pre-campaign comment on the timing of the embassy move and departure from the Iran deal – which were followed closely by a massive donation from Sheldon Adelson – indicates Steyer’s possible willingness to step on the toes of the powerful. He is an “issue advocate,” recently focused on climate change, Dreamers, and getting out the vote among young people.)

Kathryn Shihadah is staff writer for If Americans Knew. She blogs at Palestine Home.

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